social mediaSocial Media is one of the best possible and the most easily accessible ways of communication between political organizations, individuals and parties with their constituents, media and community at large. Few of the biggest advantages of the social media are that they’re free, delivering informations in real time and spreading a word about our activities not only in our imminent surroundings but all over the world. Many Canadian municipalities, politicians and parties embraced social media moving closer to those who elect them in effort to learn what community wants aiming to deliver that if it is possible. Unfortunately some communities such as District of Maple Ridge decided that social media is an enemy which should be banned or at least put under the control and tightly censored to serve small group of people and interests of few. 

On Tuesday Maple Ridge Councillor Corisa Bell posted a following on her Facebook profile:

corisa bell

At the first glance I couldn’t believe what I’m reading. Living in 21st century, inhabiting the world of politics and allowing yourself to describe Social Media as “disruptive” “misleading” and for “politicians who are self serving” as Maple Ridge Council sees it is utterly ridiculous. It is almost unbelievable that political body which needs every single possible way to communicate with community is going to tighten a grip on it to channel just a one vision. Also it is utterly unbelievable that Maple Ridge is trying to follow Chinese censorship and control tactics in a country which is a flag bearer of democracy. I wouldn’t be surprised if I see soon somewhere beside Canadian flag a portrait of Chairman Mao and newly established Committee for control minds and thoughts of people of the District. At the same time Mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi won his second term with enormous help and support from social media, also based on his use of it during the latest flooding in Alberta. On the other side of the border we have US President Barack Obama who also won two terms with great use of social media, reserving for himself a place in Twitter history as a user with the most retweeted tweet ever.

Following her Facebook post Councillor Bell also published an blog post in which she went a step further informing a public in detail about Councils intentions regarding Social Media. This new social media strategy could be adopted or discussed sometimes in early 2014. In her post Councillor Bell wrote:

The stated reasoning to have all social media flow through the District includes:

  • “Social media perpetuates issues that should be done with”

  • Only the district opinion should be stated publicly

  • There is a fear of litigation if council is to speak freely and it isn’t an opinion of the District

  • Committee work is our engagement tool as councillors, not social media

  • Information is not safe from corporate data mining unless it is put through the district website

  • Privacy is at risk for citizens engaging in public discussion. If monitored through the district then when discussions between the public get personal they can be directed to take the conversation off line

  • Social media is “misleading” and “disrespectful” and “it’s important to only have the facts (not opinion) out there.”

  • There is worry that the public will misconstrue what an elected official has posted on social media and end up discussing inaccurate information and “there is enough of that happening in the newspapers already”

  • We should “keep the meeting in the room it is actually supposed to be, that is what the public pay us to do”

  • “There’s no benefit to tweeting”

  • “Tweeting is self serving”

  • If elected officials use social media during meetings, they could accidentally tweet during a public hearing resulting in litigation or having to hold another public hearing

  • Social media on business cards gives some councillors an election advantage

Reading words above caused me to ask myself are these thoughts real or just someones joke, I would be very happy if they’re a joke but unfortunately it seems that’s just my wish. Claims such as that social media is misleading and disrespectful could only be authored by someone who probably never use it and never ever had any contact with professionals in this area. “There’s no benefit to tweeting”?! Seriously?! Can someone please sent them to see tweets of Mayors all over a Canada especially Dianne Watts and Naheed Nenshi or to ask MLA’s and MP’s how much they benefited from the social media over the years. Benefits are almost innumerable from being able to direct your community in right direction when it comes to city services to being able to address wrongly reported informations in the media or to quickly spread the word about important events in the city/district. Another benefit is that municipal governments with tight and small budget for PR are saving thousands of dollars through social media which is again absolutely free. “Tweeting is self serving”?! Oh yeah it is. Serves those who use it to reach more than you can ever reach at your Council chamber, meeting of this or that, serve as the channel to deliver important informations, facts or data to those to whom politicians or staff serves.

As someone who daily communicates with elected officials via social media not only in Canada, but also in Europe, I can say that the District of Maple Ridge staff and Councillors should seek professional advice before they made any move regarding banning or tightly controlling it. If they proceed with proposed changes to social media policies they would made one of the worse mistakes ever made by an Canadian municipal governing body.  Educate yourself, learn something new and then judge what is good what is not.